In December of 2020, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made several updates to the general handbook, one of which included the addition of a section entitled “Seeking Information from Reliable Sources”. In our day of more media than we know what to do with, I frequently hear concern and distress about how we are supposed to know what is true, and this addition to the handbook provides us with some excellent principles to guide our efforts.

The full text of the new section reads:

In today’s world, information is easy to access and share. This can be a great blessing for those seeking to be educated and informed. However, many sources of information are unreliable and do not edify. Some sources seek to promote anger, contention, fear, or baseless conspiracy theories (see 3 Nephi 11:30; Mosiah 2:32). Therefore, it is important that Church members be wise as they seek truth.

Members of the Church should seek out and share only credible, reliable, and factual sources of information. They should avoid sources that are speculative or founded on rumor. The guidance of the Holy Ghost, along with careful study, can help members discern between truth and error (see Doctrine and Covenants 11:12; 45:57). In matters of doctrine and Church policy, the authoritative sources are the scriptures, the teachings of the living prophets, and the General Handbook.

This statement identifies five principles that we can use in our pursuit of reliable information:

1. Sources should be edifying, and it is problematic when sources “seek to promote anger, contention, [or] fear.”

Elder Jay E. Jenson spoke on edification at BYU in 2011, and taught that “to edify is to instruct and improve the soul in knowledge generally, and in particular to increase in moral and religious knowledge, in faith and holiness.” Gaining knowledge should build and uplift us.

In my personal attempts to avoid media that “does not edify”, I have begun to hide or unfollow sources from my social media feed if they consistently provoke feelings of anger, contention, or fear. In a recent podcast interview, Sister Wendy Nelson spoke on how she and President Nelson “Hear Him” in their home, and shared that they have learned to “absolutely remove anything that prevents the Spirit from being in our home in full abundance. An example is zero contention.” In the effort to remove contention from their home, they are very careful about media consumption, and she shared that “If there was a sporting game, but it became contentious rather than competitive, [President Nelson] would turn it off.”

I find this to be a helpful guideline- we can consume things that are competitive- competing ideas, opinions, and policy ideas; but when we recognize that it has crossed the line into contentious territory we should turn it off or click away.

2. We should exercise caution, both in what we seek out, and what we share.

The information we consume ourselves is very important, but especially important is what we share with others. We should pause before hitting the “share” or “forward” button, and see if the information we are sharing meets the other standards given here. We should not be unwitting agents of spreading untruth. 

3. The sources we use should be “credible, reliable, and factual sources of information.”

Many of the general authorities are experts in various fields, and have been trained in the work of identifying credible sources. Purdue University offers a tool for academic writers and teaches that “credible authors will cite their sources so that you can check the accuracy of and support for what they’ve written.” Seek for publications that direct to the source of the information, and for publications that consistently report on content accurately. Factual information is something that is provable and in which evidence can be demonstrated. BYU also offers a breakdown of steps you can take to evaluate the credibility of a source.

Another helpful tip can be to pay attention to the footnotes on talks from general authorities. These footnotes will sometimes cite secular sources which can direct us to the kinds of sources that are used and trusted by our inspired leaders. 

4. Sources that are “speculative or founded on rumor” or that promote “baseless conspiracy theories” should be avoided. 

Oxford English Dictionary defines speculation as “The forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.” Evidence and provable information should supersede opinions or rumors, even if the speculation or rumors are made by people in positions of authority. Speculation and rumor should not be treated as fact, and per the counsel above, should not be shared.

For something to be “baseless”, means that it is not grounded in facts, and Oxford defines a conspiracy theory as a “belief that a secret but powerful organization is responsible for an event.” Returning to principle three can help us to determine what is grounded in facts or not. 

5. Through both prayer, and careful study, the Holy Ghost can help us to discern truth. 

Doctrine and Covenants 9:8 teaches that we “must study it out in [our] mind; then [we] must ask [The Lord] if it be right.” President Nelson has shared that “good inspiration is based upon good information.” We should do our best to diligently (and prayerfully) study an issue, seek for evidence-based sources, to avoid speculation or rumors, and then take our study to the Lord to help us discern if it is true. When President Nelson was inspired to know how to repair the heart of a Stake Patriarch, that inspiration was dependent upon a great deal of study and prayer, and without either ingredient, the inspiration could not have come to him. Our study should be accompanied by faith, and our faith accompanied by study.

As we adopt these principles into our pursuit of true information, the Lord will bless our efforts and improve our ability to discern truth from error.